The extraordinary life and death of the world’s oldest known spider
May 2, 2018 9:39 AM   Subscribe

SLWaPo: "She was born beneath an acacia tree in one of the few patches of wilderness left in the southwest Australian wheat belt, in an underground burrow lined with her mother’s perfect silk. Her mother had used the same silk, strong and thick, to seal the burrow’s entrance against the withering heat of the summer of 1974, and against all the flying, prodding things that prowled the North Bungulla Reserve. She lived like that, in safety and darkness, for the first six months of her life. Then one day in the rainy autumn months, her mother unsealed the tunnel, and she left."
posted by apricot (36 comments total) 42 users marked this as a favorite
 
Wow, beautifully written. I'm genuinely sad about this spider's death, even though I have a (totally unwarranted and unreasonable) phobia and felt little paranoid prickles all over my body as I was reading. How cool to think that there are likely tough little old lady spiders all over the world that we just haven't studied yet.
posted by DSime at 9:48 AM on May 2 [4 favorites]


O
RIP 16
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 9:58 AM on May 2


are there pictures of spiders in the article? aka. is it safe for arachnophobes?
posted by supermedusa at 9:58 AM on May 2 [1 favorite]


That was unexpectedly sweet.

And then because we humans are collectively garbage, the "related stories" at the article's bottom are all about people being sadistic pieces of shit to other animals.
posted by maxwelton at 9:58 AM on May 2 [1 favorite]


are there pictures of spiders in the article?

Yes.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 10:04 AM on May 2 [2 favorites]


There is a photo at the very top so beware
posted by thebrokedown at 10:04 AM on May 2


thanks!
posted by supermedusa at 10:06 AM on May 2


.
posted by Pendragon at 10:12 AM on May 2


I love love love spiders. But that love came slowly and began with an unlikely friendship with a jumping spider on my back porch. I strove to learn more about them and discovered that they are absolutely amazing and extremely helpful to humans, and indeed all life on this planet. I recommend learning about them and slow exposure. R/spiderbro on Reddit is a gentle start (many photos, though) and I've seen many posts there about how that subreddit was very hopeful for the phobic. Lucas the Jumping Spider videos are also a low-key way to get a little exposure.
There are fishing spiders, spiders that parachute, spiders with light-reflecting eyes, spiders that tuck in their legs and roll roll roll for locomotion. !!!
I have a standing deal with any of my friends: if you have a spider you want gone, do NOT kill. Call me and I will come re-home it.

Good-bye, Number 16. I'm sad I learned about your exceptional life at the same time I learned of your sad death.
posted by thebrokedown at 10:14 AM on May 2 [13 favorites]


🕸
posted by ryanshepard at 10:22 AM on May 2 [6 favorites]


Echoing the love for spiders. Everything spiders eat is more unpleasant than spiders themselves plus they eat a lot, so I will never kill a spider (except ultra venomous ones). Also big love for those many legged basement bugs, which are the homeowners best friend ever. You either got a house with a few spiders and basement bugs, or you got a house full of ants and weevils and roaches and flies and moths and uuugghhhhh. Or pesticides I guess but that’s even worse.
posted by seanmpuckett at 10:28 AM on May 2 [2 favorites]


It bothers me that she never got a name fancier than Number 16. At they very least, that should be Mrs. 16 to us.
posted by blnkfrnk at 10:32 AM on May 2 [7 favorites]


“We can be inspired by an ancient mygalomorph spider and the rich biodiversity she embodied,”

I doubt I’ll get as stirring an obituary.
posted by GenjiandProust at 10:41 AM on May 2 [9 favorites]


Yikes the ending is pretty bleak also.
posted by StephenF at 10:41 AM on May 2 [1 favorite]


I know wildlife is never going to get a "died peacefully at home," but I'm wondering just how much longer the spider could have lived if the wasp hadn't gotten in.
posted by explosion at 10:46 AM on May 2 [4 favorites]


Old lady spider dead of home invasion. Bunch of savages in this town.
posted by asperity at 10:48 AM on May 2 [10 favorites]


Lived in a place for a few years where I would see a few male Giant House Spiders out in the open around the house during mating season... like to think I saw the same one(s). Well for a couple of years, they don't have the lifespan of 16
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 10:49 AM on May 2


man, fuck wasps
posted by Sokka shot first at 11:14 AM on May 2 [10 favorites]


.
posted by eviemath at 11:16 AM on May 2


man, fuck wasps

In an alternate universe, someone who studies wasps wrote a story about the life and death struggle that happened at 16's house, in which the wasp was the heroic one, doing what it needed to continue its species. In this universe, we get 16's story.

Personally, while I wish 16's life had continued - it would be neat to learn how long she could have lived - I was really worried that her end was going to be the result of human encroachment, pesticide, etc. That it happened, relatively speaking, naturally - another species invading her home because that is their strategy for hiding and nourishing their young - makes it more acceptable for me.
posted by nubs at 11:27 AM on May 2 [6 favorites]


Jeez, she was only a year younger than me.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 11:39 AM on May 2 [5 favorites]


are there pictures of spiders in the article? aka. is it safe for arachnophobes?

There is one picture at the top that can be scrolled past quickly. The other pictures don't have spiders in them.
posted by apricot at 12:35 PM on May 2 [1 favorite]


It bothers me that she never got a name fancier than Number 16. At they very least, that should be Mrs. 16 to us.

Agreed. I mean, Shelob was right there for the plucking!
posted by Atom Eyes at 12:39 PM on May 2 [1 favorite]


man, fuck wasps

Let me welcome you to Whidbey Island (and other bits of western Washington), and our roughly 9-year-cycles of tent caterpillar hell.

In 2014, nearly every blade of grass in the yard here at Chez Maxwelton had a caterpillar on it; every shrub was covered. The roads nearby were coated in squished caterpillar slime. All of the alders lost their spring foliage, and some lost the second attempt (alders will put out a sparser set of new leaves if their initial set is eaten, assuming they have the energy reserves for it). A munched second-leafing generally kills the tree...not that alders aren't going to randomly fall over anyway, but I digress.

You haven't lived until you have stood next to a stand of trees and realized the "raindrop" sounds you can plainly hear are caterpillar turds raining down from the little buggers' defoliation efforts.

Our salvation? A parasitic wasp, whose population also explodes a bit behind the caterpillars. Towards the end, nearly every living caterpillar I saw had a white dot on its head, which was an egg laid by the wasp, its grub destined to use the caterpillar as food.

+1 team wasp.
posted by maxwelton at 1:33 PM on May 2 [13 favorites]


Wow, what an amazing little story.
posted by lucidium at 2:13 PM on May 2


Wonderful! I wanted to post this a few days ago but I couldn't find any coverage on non-horrible news sites. This is a much better article, too. 43 years!
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 2:45 PM on May 2


Welp, Maxwelton, you just made me very happy that my husband's grandfather's house on Whidbey went to a different branch of the family. I used to think about it wistfully, but no more.
posted by apricot at 2:54 PM on May 2 [1 favorite]


In an alternate universe, someone who studies wasps wrote a story about the life and death struggle that happened at 16's house, in which the wasp was the heroic one, doing what it needed to continue its species. In this universe, we get 16's story.

Made me think of Insect Horror: Mother's Day [by MeFi's own Paul Slade].
posted by ryanshepard at 4:34 PM on May 2 [1 favorite]


::::
posted by adept256 at 5:49 PM on May 2 [1 favorite]


It's amazing to me that she died because something killed her. How long might it have taken her to die of old age?!
posted by kittens for breakfast at 5:59 PM on May 2 [4 favorites]


We have a small Lemon Spider in our bathroom that's been there for years, our little buddy.
posted by ovvl at 6:20 PM on May 2 [1 favorite]


A quick google and previous longest lived spider seems to be a captive tarantula that lived to 28. Think it's fairly unusual for a record holder of animal longevity to be wild (with obvious exceptions for animals that are hard to keep in captivity or don't thrive)
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 2:03 AM on May 3


My dad's friendly crab spider that lives in his guest bathroom has been there going on 20 years. I thought it was a series of related spiders, but now I wonder.
posted by WalkerWestridge at 6:49 AM on May 3 [2 favorites]


This is a beautiful article. Thanks for posting.
posted by vacapinta at 9:09 AM on May 3


I want to love spiders, I do, but I live here in Australia and see deadly spiders while gardening. It makes it a little hard to be relaxed around them unless I know what kind they are and that I'm safe. Call me a coward, but necrosis is just not something I want to experience.
posted by AnhydrousLove at 10:27 AM on May 3


That said 16 seems amazing as do trapdoor spiders in general. Huntsman spiders are a pretty cool variety too, one I get to see a fair few of.
posted by AnhydrousLove at 10:30 AM on May 3


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